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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The impact of international trade agreements on health : patent system harmonization and medicines in Mexico Warren, Benjamin C.


Patent system harmonization obligations found within international trade agreements have been subject to intense scrutiny over the past two decades due to the potential negative implications for public health in developing countries. In 1994, NAFTA became the first trade agreement to include patent system harmonization obligations. Mexico as a signatory to NAFTA was the first developing country to adopt the patent system of developed countries via patent system harmonization. This makes Mexico a particularly relevant case study on the subject. The central research question addressed in this dissertation is: Does NAFTA patent system harmonization promote access to medicines in Mexico, while incentivizing pharmaceutical R&D? This dissertation undertakes a comparative legal analysis, a scoping study, and qualitative stakeholder analysis to address the central research question. Evidence is provided that compulsory licensing as a safeguard is inadequate as a downstream measure in the promotion of access. A key finding is that international trade agreements should be drafted with optimal pharmaceutical patent protection standards in mind. Further, patent system harmonization results in a net health benefit that can be maximized through the provision of feedback evidence to decision-makers in order to develop responsive laws and policy. This dissertation proposes that: if we reform the granting of patent terms from a fixed twenty year life period to a flexible and adjustable term determined through an assessment of health and economic conditions that exist during any given time period, we will improve both global equity in access to medicines and reduce economic inefficiencies in our current model for pharmaceutical R&D, while maintaining adequate incentives to conduct pharmaceutical R&D. The proposed reform is akin to the use of interest rates as an economic growth and stabilization tool in monetary policy. It would require government patent offices to analyze global conditions in pharmaceutical access and R&D, and accordingly adjust the number of years of patent protection awarded. This novel contribution to the academic literature informs Canadian, Mexican, and developing country decision makers on how to design appropriate policy for the benefit of public health.

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